In the past three days I’ve sent off:
- Two microfiction entries for my local alt weekly’s annual flash fiction contest
- A SciFi short story to a bona fide literary venue
- The first 50 pages of my historical romance for the Golden Rose contest
And just last month, I sent out a query to two agents and another short story.
So what gives? I’ve been doing more polishing and submitting than actual writing, and it’s a strange feeling. But, here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Apologies in advance for the epicness of this post, but I found it helpful for me to get all this stuff down.
Know when your work is ready.
This is so hard. So hard. And I still wonder every time I send something out if I’m deluding myself. Even though I know I’ve revised my work for hours, shared it with others, and have been actively working to improve my craft, I still doubt.
For a long time, that doubt was paralyzing. But I’ve made some head way and had enough small victories here and there to assure me that I’m not crazy for wanting to write and ultimately see my work published. So although I’m ready (and this blog is a testament to that), it’s harder for me to evaluate my different stories and novel-length projects to determine their readiness.
For some projects -- like the SciFi short story and the literary short I’ve submitted – I felt really good about them from inception to completion. Members of my critique groups responded to them positively. They’ve been pretty positive about most of my work, but there was something more encouraging, perhaps more genuine, about their reactions to these particular pieces. So I went with that feeling, found appropriate venues for the stories, and sent them off before I lost my nerve.
With my historical romance novel, I’ve been a bit more cautious about sending it off into the world (and I’ve addressed this before). Because it’s a much bigger project than a short story or piece of flash fiction, I figure I need to be a bit more strategic in how I handle it. A stalling tactic, a self-defense mechanism, perhaps, but I still think it’s reasonable to want to tread carefully with a work of this magnitude. Hence the contests, the constant revisions, and the postponement of a massive query flurry. But I’m getting closer. I just received my critique sheet back from one of the contests I entered and was encouraged by the evaluation. I'm getting there, slowly but surely.
And then there are stories that are as good as they’re gonna get before the deadline. Like my microfiction entries for the local alt weekly contest. I participated last year and found it to be a challenging exercise at a time when I was just buckling down with this whole writing seriously thing. I knew I wanted to enter this year, and of course the timing of my big move hampered that a bit. But I made the deadline and was satisfied with my work. The experience also gave me the chance to look over my entry from last year, and I felt there was a marked improvement in my writing since. So regardless of the outcome for this particular contest, I already feel validated.
The more you submit, the easier it gets.
Submitting is scary. Working up the nerve to get your stuff out there can take a while. And we as writers are guilty of filling up the blogosphere with all our self-doubts and the oft-repeated publishing myths of evil agents and frustrated editors who like nothing more than to crush our dreams.
Knowing the ins and outs of submission requirements is essential. But I’ve also made enough mistakes to know that it won’t be the end of the world if something goes wrong. Some venues are more forgiving than others. That’s the way of things. I recently had an agent contact me to let me know my attachment didn’t come through. I was thrilled she took the time to let me resend. Given all the mythology around editors and agents, I had no reason to expect this second chance. But I took it and moved on.
Sending out your work does get easier over time. I know that just in the short time I’ve been sending out my work, my process has become a little more formalized after each submission. My mental submission checklist grows longer each time I click send. The thought of a query no longer sends me running for the hills. I think it’s really owning the professional part of writing for publication that has done it for me. I want to be a professional writer; hence, the need for professionalism in all things. I am now better able to separate myself from my work by embracing the professional – not the personal – aspects of writing when submitting.
And I’ve had help getting past the me in my writing. Blogging, writing groups, open-mics… all these activities have helped me to not only practice writing, but have also helped me get used to getting my work out there. Putting myself on the line. I’ve learned about accountability and ways to settle my nerves. And the more you do it, the less terrifying it becomes.
Relish that period of time between clicking send and getting a
It’s heady. Sending your writing off into the world. Once you’re sure you’ve attached the right file or included the proper salutation, that is. Then you’re full of optimism that maybe, just maybe, something good will come out of all this. After all, as of this moment, you work hasn’t been rejected yet. Anything is possible.
Sure it’s possible that the pieces I’ve sent out in the last few weeks can be accepted for publication or selected as Numero Uno in a contest. And until I get rejected, there’s no reason to think otherwise. Why? Because I need that positive thinking to propel me into a new project or to revisit a previously stalled WIP. I can’t be wallowing in self-doubt if I expect to be productive. It’s done. My work is out there. And all I can do is pick up the pen and move on.
The fallout will come. The odds tell me that much. Despite all that I’ve learned about craft, how attentive I’ve been to my work, I may get a form rejection tomorrow, a week from now, next month, who knows… but I’m just getting closer to yes, right?
Have a contingency plan.
With the exception of the microfiction, I know where I’m sending my different stories next if and when those pieces are rejected. I have a contingency plan for each one. I have to. I care too much about these stories to let them languish if they are not accepted on the first try.
There’s always another venue. Aim high, yes. I am certainly doing that. Targeting the best agents instead of defaulting to an e-publisher. The literary venue with the pro-rates instead of the online ‘zine run by frustrated MFA rejects. But what if you’re left with rejection after rejection, even after scraping the bottom of the barrel of possible outlets? That is what I fear the most.
I’m at the point with many of my stories where I’m just not sure what more I could be doing with them. I’ve polished them on my own, shared them with my critique group, entered contests, revised some more, and then what? The only way to move forward is to submit your stuff and see what happens. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at once, make no mistake. But oh-so-necessary as well.
Rejections are fuzzy. A rejection could mean your work didn’t fit the venue. Or it just might mean your work sucks. And until you have a decent enough sample of rejections, it’s difficult to know whether you need to work harder at craft or just work harder at finding the right fit for your story. I won’t know where I’m at until I get some feedback, even the form rejection kind. But I like to think I’m ready for it.
The balls are in the air. Let’s see where they land.